Longform

Altar Ego: The Ex-Priest and the Death of a Beauty Queen

Page 7 of 14

Irene Garza, whom Feit says he didn't know, arrived five minutes later.

"She was a light-complected girl, apparently of Latin-American extraction — good-looking. She spoke perfect English," he told police.

"For 10 minutes she discussed a personal problem of hers with me, the nature of which I do not feel justified in making public since it involved my obligation of professional secrecy as a clergyman and Catholic priest."

However, Feit did let on that the issue wasn't too serious.

"Her overall attitude and comportment during our brief conversation led me to believe that she possessed a very delicate conscience."

Feit said he sent Garza to the church so she could go to confession.

Feit said he left the rectory, locked the door behind him and headed to the church to help the other three priests give confession.

Feit said he last saw Garza "standing on the sidewalk, in front of the church, arranging a scarf or handkerchief on her head."

At 8 p.m., Feit said he left the church for a short break. He saw Father O'Brien talking to some men outside the church. He went to O'Brien and asked for the keys to the rectory.

From this point on, Feit's story begins to differ from the evidence and the statements of witnesses.

He said he returned to the church at 8:15 p.m. He said he left the church again at 9 p.m. to go to the rectory "because my voice was beginning to give out." There, he said, he had a cigarette and a 7UP and returned to the church to give confession.

However, a host of witnesses within the church said Father Feit's confessional line stopped moving about 8 p.m. As Father O'Brien later told police, that was a sign there was no priest in the confession booth.

Feit said that at 9:50 p.m., near the end of confession, a screw in his eyeglasses came loose and fell out. He told Father Busch that he would have to go to the pastoral house in San Juan to get his other pair of glasses.

The next day, O'Brien and the other priests noticed that Feit's hand was injured.

Feit explained that injury away:

"Upon arriving at the Pastoral House in San Juan, I found all the doors on the ground floor locked." So he said he placed a wood barricade against the building and climbed up and through a second-story window.

"While entering the house in this way, I scraped the back of my right hand slightly, and the index finger and middle finger of my left hand more severely on the brick wall."

He said he changed clothes and headed back to McAllen for the 11 p.m. service.

He said he went to bed at 1 a.m. with a "severe headache," which he assumed was caused by his second pair of glasses. He said the spectacles "never fit me as well as the first" pair.

The next morning, Feit gave Mass at 9 a.m., then asked Fathers Busch and O'Brien if he could use Busch's car to go to San Juan to get his glasses fixed.

Feit said he worked on the glasses "for five minutes," but had no luck. Then, he said, "I drove straight back to Sacred Heart Church."

At 12:40 p.m., he asked another priest to drive him to the Pastoral House in San Juan, where he said he stayed until about 4 p.m.

He returned to Sacred Heart to give 5:30 Mass. Shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Easter Sunday, he said, he was given a ride back to the Pastoral House by Father O'Brien.

Feit said he immediately realized he had left some of his belongings at Sacred Heart, so he borrowed a car and drove back to the church.

There, he said, several priests were talking about the "missing girl." As he stood there, the phone rang. Father Junius answered. It was Irene Garza's parents wanting to speak with the priest who had spoken with her the night before.

The parents came over, and Feit said he spoke with them. He said they asked him if he "had perhaps said anything which might have upset or disturbed their daughter."

In fact, Garza family members say, Nick Garza asked Feit, "What have you done with my daughter?"

Feit said, "I could see the parents were very disturbed and upset themselves, so I sent them home as quickly and as quietly as possible.

"I then picked up my coat, collar and laundry and headed for home. It was about 9:15 p.m. But I did not go straight home. My talk with the girl's parents had disturbed me. Perhaps I had said something, unintentionally, that might have upset that girl? I was worried, and drove around aimlessly for a while."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Nelson